Cupping may seem like it's only used with the adult population but cupping therapy for babies has actually proven to be useful along with children.
Shannon Gilmartin working on pediatric clients via Global Healthworks, a program she volunteers with in Guatemala. Photos courtesy of Shannon Gilmartin.

Therapeutic cupping is a wonderful healing modality used the world over for a variety of conditions and has yielded great benefit for people of all ages — including children.

While this incredibly diverse therapeutic tool seems like something generally used with an adult population, cupping has proven very useful in working with children, too. Regardless of age, when working with cups there is much to know about proper client evaluation, as well as safe and logical application choices.

When choosing to use cups with kids, it is important to know how to alter one’s application to adapt to the younger anatomy and the overall demeanor of children. That’s what we will go over in this article.

Using Cups with Kids

While most applications can be used on children as they would be used on adults, there are some primary elements to consider with regards to their younger ages, primarily:

• The youthful nature of younger body composition;

• Overall developmental stage; and

• At least sometimes, the nature of simply being playful kids.

If the tissue begins to mark quickly, you can see this and remove the cup, avoiding the potential for darker marking.
If the tissue begins to mark quickly, you can see this and remove the cup, avoiding the potential for darker marking.

Body Composition

The primary element to consider when using cups with children is the state of their younger body composition, which grows and changes as they mature. Their skin and muscles are new, soft, and still developing; the younger the person the more relevant this is, as this means there is a higher possibility of bruising from the applied negative pressure of cups.

Far too often people confuse true cupping marks with bruises. Unfortunately, many times there is true bruising that occurs when cupping is applied with too much suction or for too long of a duration of time in one location.

This can inevitably cause tissue damage.

There is a high probability of bruising if overly zealous applications are used on younger people.

Whatever the reason to use cups on kids — whether for muscle tension, digestive issues (constipation, indigestion) or pulmonary conditions (asthma, chronic bronchitis) — be mindful of the soft tissue’s response to cupping.

It is highly recommended to use clear cupping equipment, allowing visual observation of what is happening to the skin beneath the cup. If the tissue begins to mark quickly, you can see this and remove the cup, avoiding the potential for darker marking, possibly overworking that area of the body which would leave them feeling physically sore or hurt.

Moreover, while the likelihood of cupping marks always exists, a child can see a cupping mark as a bruise (whether a true cupping mark or not) and think the treatment was not good for them.

One of the most common mistakes with cupping is that people think you must produce a cupping mark to receive any therapeutic benefit. This concept is not only incorrect but can also be potentially quite dangerous. I have worked with many younger children who receive great benefit from the use of cups and yet they never receive marks. And think about it: what child wants to see a bruise on their body? It can be scary!

Another primary consideration when working with children is that their livers are not fully developed until approximately 18 years of age. Cupping helps clear soft tissues of metabolic wastes. Releasing too much into their systems at one time could be excessive for their young body systems to process, potentially leaving them vulnerable to a variety of adverse reactions like feeling ill, headaches, or nauseous.

Therefore, consider the younger ages of your clients and use your best, therapeutic body-working judgment to decide how to use cups. Consider how massage is given to an infant differently than working with a five-year-old child, and still different from working with a teenager.

Stages of Youth

Infants: Any cupping on babies should be done gently and with small cups, and for short durations. Examples of using cups on an infant is to help with digestive issues (constipation, colic) or pulmonary conditions (ex. breathing congestion, lingering coughs). Cups for infants should be very light in suction and limited in time as to not overdo it. A little goes a long way.

Ages 2 to 10: Young children can receive slightly more cupping than an infant, but remember that their soft tissue is delicate and still newly developing. Cups can be used for digestive or pulmonary issues too, but also any muscle or soft tissue tension that may be present.

Ages 11 to 18: Cups for adolescents into teenage years can still be used for digestive and pulmonary issues, as this is a wonderful benefit of cupping for anyone. However, cups are now also more available to address muscle tension or injuries, potentially related to sports and other physically exertive activities they get into.

Even though you can start to use cups more regularly in application at this age, always remember that adolescents’ soft tissues are still developing, and that any major cupping releases could still be potentially excessive for their livers to process.

Shannon Gilmartin and an assistant apply cups via Global Healthworks, in Guatemala.
Shannon Gilmartin and an assistant apply cups via Global Healthworks, in Guatemala.

Fun Ways to Use Cups with Kids

Working with kids can prove challenging for many child-like reasons; some kids may be apprehensive or nervous, others may be scared, and still others may not sit still long enough to receive bodywork.

To this point, while cups are great tools to use therapeutically, they can also be used as toys to gain access to working with kids. Have some fun with them!

I often give a small silicone or rubber cup to a young client to play with before I begin working with them, and perhaps they hold onto it while I work on them with other cups. The kids can see it as a toy, which can keep them focused on something rather than wanting to move around during their treatment.

I will often demonstrate what the applied cup looks like on my own arm, maybe even apply the cup to their parent too, and this shows that we all are OK with it, and it won’t hurt them.

Another fun spin when using cups with kids is to make it fun and focus on the fact that the cups might tickle rather than hurt.

That said, remember, cupping should never hurt. Don’t lie to the kid after you have gained their trust with this cup demonstration and then do strong cupping, thereby creating an association of pain with cups.

I personally can get pretty silly with cups by either placing them on my face or popping a cup in my hand so we all have some fun before we get started, and this works well.

All in all, therapeutic cupping can yield some incredible results for people of all ages. If you’re using cups with kids, just remember to evaluate them as an individual — and have some fun with it.

About the Author:

Shannon Gilmartin
Shannon Gilmartin, CMT

Shannon Gilmartin, CMT, has been a massage therapist since 2000, and working with cupping and teaching internationally since 2004. She has been interviewed many times, has published numerous articles, and authored The Guide to Modern Cupping Therapy: Your Step-by-Step Source for Vacuum Therapy. She co-owns Modern Cupping Therapy Education Company.